For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 9

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

9:1.  “For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.”


All that Solomon had considered, from the perspective of the infidel, had led him to the conclusion that man, and everything pertaining to his brief life, are under God’s control, and he knows not whether he is loved or hated by God; whether he will be rich or poor.  Some understand the words “knoweth either love or hatred” to mean that man does not know what to love and what to hate, i.e., he lacks the wisdom to choose between good and evil; and he knows nothing of what the future holds.


9:2.  “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.”


His foolish reasoning was that death was the end of everything, and that since there was nothing beyond death, it mattered not how a man lived: whether just or lawless, moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, liar or truthful, it made no difference after he had breathed his last breath.  His conduct had no eternal consequences.


9:3.  “This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”


Even from his wrong perspective he recognized the injustice of all this, and declared it to be evil.  He recognized too that men were inherently full of evil, with the result that their lives were characterized by folly and wickedness which continued until death; but he failed to understand that death wasn’t the end of everything, that eternal consequences attend man’s conduct, there being everlasting bliss in heaven for the repentant believer, and never ending torment in the lake of fire for the unbeliever.


9:4.  “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”


His philosophy might be summed up in the old adage that while there’s life there’s hope; hope, that is, of a change for the better in his circumstances; but for the infidel who believes that death is the end of everything, there is no hope beyond the grave, for his whole outlook is earthbound.


9:5.  “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”


What paltry consolation comes with the knowledge that all must die, and the erroneous belief that there is nothing beyond death!

And how terribly wrong is the idea that “the dead know not any thing”!  The awful truth is that death endows the unbeliever with knowledge, which possessed on earth, would have brought immediate repentance and salvation, but acquired after death, brings only the bitterness of eternal regret, and enhanced awareness of eternal torment.


The memory of the dead retained by the living - their fleeting and only earthly reward - is quickly forgotten by those still on earth, but their own memory of despised and rejected opportunity on earth to repent and be saved, will torment them for ever.


9:6.  “Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”


The human emotions: love, hatred, envy ... that marked their lives on earth, are ended for ever, as is also their participation in the activities of earthly life.  Death has carried them away from all those things into a realm of eternal bliss or torment, depending on whether the had confessed themselves sinners, and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, while they were on earth.


9:7.  “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.”


It is to be remembered that this is the expressed philosophy of an unconverted man, an infidel who acknowledges God’s existence, but who knows Him not as Savior.  God’s acceptance of man’s “works” has to be understood in its proper context: having appointed the order for human life on earth, He desires man to enjoy life according to that same order, i.e., He wants man to enjoy his food and drink and toil, but as a believer.  He does not approve of the sinful lifestyles of the unconverted who engage in these activities, often to excess, but who refuse to acknowledge God as the Giver.


9:8.  “Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.”


Since white is the color of purity, and since garments are to the body what habits are to the life, the truth being declared here is that the natural man, though an infidel, still realizes the superiority of virtue over vice.  And since the head is the seat of the intellect, the head anointed with fragrant ointment or oil is the symbolic announcement of the fact that even the natural man understands that a pure mind is to be preferred to an impure.


9:9.  “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun.”


God has given woman to man to be his complement, and He has so created them that in monogamous marriage they can abide together in a lifelong relationship of love that is unique to the state of marriage.  This has been ordained by God, just as has the need for man to toil; but it is to be noted that marriage has been established only for man’s life “under the sun,” i.e., his life here on earth.  It does not extend into the eternal state, as it is written, “... in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” Matthew 22:30.


9:10.  “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”


This admonition is the basis for the adage, “What is worth doing, is worth doing well.”  God would have him perform to the best of his ability the work He has given man to do, a possible reason being that all which God does He has done perfectly, and since He has made man in His own image, He would have that image reflected in everything man does, but obviously only to the extent that is humanly possible in view of man’s imperfect fallen state.


A further reason is that man’s departure to the grave ends all his opportunity to do anything, for it is only in his earthly body that he can work, plan, know, and apply his knowledge.  Beyond the grave the unconverted man will have perfect knowledge, but sadly not the power to use it.  It is here on earth that man needs the wisdom to make the right use of knowledge.


9:11.  “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”


“I returned” is better translated “Again I observed, etc.”  He noted that the race isn’t always won by the swiftest runner, nor the battle by the strongest fighter; neither does the wise man always have enough to eat, nor does the intelligent or shrewd man always become rich; nor does the man of skill, i.e., the educated, the scholar, the expert, always acquire glory.  What the infidel would call the caprice of fate plays a large part in men’s lives, i.e., being in the right place at the right time.  The man of faith however, knows that it is God who arranges circumstances to accomplish His will: nothing happens merely by chance, as His Word assures us, not even a sparrow falls to earth apart from His permissive or directive will.


9:12.  “For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are take in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.”


As fish know not the moment when they may be caught in the fisherman’s net, nor birds the moment when they will be trapped in a snare, neither does man know the time of his death, that time being evil indeed for the unbeliever, for it sweeps him from time into eternal torment.


9:13.  “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me.”


The things described in the preceding verse are examples of wisdom which had made a deep impression on Solomon.


9:14.  “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:”


9:15.  “Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.”


No spiritual mind will have difficulty seeing in these two verses a parabolic picture of Christ’s redemption of the earth and the men upon it.  The little city is earth, little among the planets; the few men were Adam and Eve; the great opposing king is Satan.  The poor wise man is Christ who came down to earth and became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich, and by His wisdom which seemed folly to men, delivered the earth and the men upon it by His vicarious death and glorious resurrection.  And as it was in the parable, so is it in reality: no man remembers that same “poor man.”  A hedonistic world plunges recklessly towards destruction, neither knowing nor caring that the Christ Who has given His life to ransom men’s souls, is about to return as King of kings, and Lord of lords, to execute judgment, and banish every unbeliever into hell.


9:16.  “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.”


It is very doubtful whether Solomon understood the deeper spiritual significance of what he wrote, but every Spirit-taught believer recognizes that the wisdom which leads a man to trust Christ as his Savior, is superior to any power on earth.  But as it was in that distant past day, so is it still, “the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.”


9:17.  “The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.”


This is also translated, “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools,” or “The quiet words of the wise are better heeded than the shout of a ruler of fools.” 


Shouting and blustering add nothing to what is being said, but on the contrary, rouse suspicion relative to the truth of the speaker’s statement. 


9:18.  “Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.”


Whatever may be achieved by war is seldom worth the cost.  Where ever possible, it is infinitely better to resolve a dispute by wise discussion, war being a last resort.


“... sinner” is more accurately translated “error, mistake, slip,” and who can measure the loss that has sometimes resulted from just one small mistake?  Consider, for example, the misery brought into the world by Adam’s one mistake.

[Ecclesiastes 10]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough